During the 2021 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young became a villain around the league for his play and showmanship against the Knicks, Sixers and even the Bucks until he was injured.
He even got spat on by a Knicks fan, the ultimate sign of disrespect. Trae got the last laugh though.
Young’s Villain Act Is Here To Stay
Young’s villain approach is a part of who he is and that won’t change anytime soon. That target on his back makes him play better. The Knicks, Sixers and even Bucks to an extent were the first to witness an “Ice Trae barrage on the playoffs, but they won’t be the last.
His flamboyance is motivated by a chip on his shoulder that comes from him being doubted because of his size and body type. He entered the league as a prolific college scorer who was often criticized and nitpicked leading up to the 2018 draft.
Trae has been embarrassing dudes on the court and playing up to the opposing crowd since high school. He’s a natural-born star. In wrestling terms, some nights he’s the heel and some nights he’s the face.
The NBA All-Star has gained the reputation as somewhat of a villain, and it’s the perfect role for a guy who has brought the sizzle to a lukewarm pro hoops culture. Not since the days of Dominique Wilkins have the Hawks had a player so explosive, captivating and capable of being the best player on the floor every night.
The diminutive Young led the Hawks to first- and second-round upsets over the higher-seeded New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers with his clutch shotmaking and improvisation.
But it was his innate ability to draw fouls and get to the line in the game’s biggest moments that stood out. “Ice Trae” is just a hooper. Never afraid of the moment or an opponent, despite his frail stature.
Hope in Hotlanta
Hawks fans haven’t had much to cheer about in the “ATL” before Trae and a solid supporting cast led the city to a surprise Eastern Conference Finals.
Nate McMillan Produces, Creates, Elevates
Young’s leadership ability wasn’t as evident under former head coach Lloyd Pierce, who questioned whether Young was playing for stats or wins. Pierce and Young never really saw eye to eye, so management stepped in and relieved Pierce of his duties in March with the Hawks sitting at 14-20.
They promoted assistant coach Nate McMillan, a noted franchise uplifter, who’s done nothing but win in small markets like Indiana, Seattle, and Portland.
McMillan navigated the Hawks past the top-seeded Sixers to advance to the franchise’s Eastern Conference Finals since the 2014-15 season.
Nate The Great was a breath of fresh air for the entire roster but especially Young. McMillan set the tone, telling Trae he’d be held accountable for his actions and he must play to make teammates better and not always to get his numbers. It was tough love but executed with a genuine respect for Young, which is something that Pierce never seems to have.
Young’s Leadership Takes A Huge Leap
Forward John Collins (No. 19 pick 2017 draft) voiced his displeasure in how often the offense was running through Young during a meeting in January.
“We need to get into offensive sets more quickly and limit all those early shot-clock attempts that leave his teammates on the outside looking in,” Collins said.
He also pointed out he needed more involvement in the offense and what happens with better ball movement and less of Young’s ball dominance.
Young didn’t take offense to it and actually showed some real leadership and maturity in his response.
“I know me and John have set the bar high for ourselves, but we’re still 22 and 23 years old. There’s a lot we can get better at,” Young said in a January 2021 Bleacher Report interview. “There’s going to be times when we are going to talk about what we see and what we feel and what we can get better at. That’s a part of basketball. That’s a part of this game. You talk and you communicate and you don’t always agree with each other. And that’s a part of this game that makesthat’s makes it so fun as you learn and grow and go on.”
Young’s mature response officially implanted him as the leader the Hawks needed going forward. The Hawks rewarded their two cornerstones with contracts totaling 10 years and $332 million.
Tonight these young gunners will meet another generational talent in Dallas Mavericks star Luka Dončić to kick off the highly-anticipated 2021-22 season. A season full of expectations for the NBA’s new villain.